That’s right, I think Overwatch is going to be the biggest hit of the year. Don’t get me wrong, there are other games I am excited about, but this is the one that’s finally going to pull me away from League of Legends. There are of course a few things about Overwatch that disappoint me–however I’m disappointed every day I look at my puny biceps–and yet still Blizzard has put together one hell of a game.
I've been in the beta since last fall, and reached level 116 so I’m going to cover what I feel like they are doing right, what they are doing wrong, and why. Here we go!
What have they nailed?!
I really liked the approach that Blizzard took when creating this game. It obviously has some emulated ideas from Team Fortress 2 and many aspects that make MOBA’s interesting. But they focused on 2 of the things I feel are most important for a game like this: anyone with a wide range of skill levels can play (which is most important imo) and focused on just feeling cool.
The characters all have various degrees of skill caps. So the players out there that are master Counter Strike Ninja Death Killer players can find a champion they like, and players who like to take it a little slower and may not have the best reflexes can find a character that they like and excel at. Even more amazing, Blizzard is able do this and make it feel like an even playing field, and here’s how.
There are 4 class types called Offense, Defense, Support and Tank. There are 4-6 characters within each class. But what’s really cool is that there are characters of all skill level even within each class. For example in other games, the Offensive class is typically twitchy types of players they have straight up reflex based abilities, however, Overwatch has given players that don’t have the most accurate FPS skills the ability to play this class with a few options. They have a character who is essentially an aim bot, whose basic functioning power assists the player in shooting the enemy. Or there is an option to be a super powerful Offensive guy that blasts with short range dual shotguns, so all you need to do is aim in the general direction and his skill all comes from positioning. And with these character choices, everyone can still have fun with an Offensive character. My other example is in the Support class, where there is a character that all the player has to do is just aim and hold a button on a friendly to contribute to the team just like the Medic in TF2. But there is also another healer that is almost as powerful as an Offense class type character, but with heals. And they’ve balanced this all very well to make it fun across the board, be competitive, but most importantly, feel fun.
This is really 2 areas for me, art style and character design. The art style is, in my opinion, the best out there right now. Sure there are other games that are more technically advanced, more shaders and polys, higher fidelity, etc., but I just love the clean look of this game. As an art director on several games, I think one of the hardest things for artists to do is relinquish art aesthetics for gameplay. Now I don’t mean make crappy art so the game can be more fun, what I mean is gameplay should always come first. For example, if I can’t clearly see where I am supposed to go because an artist had a field day making the most beautiful forest ever seen in a game, I consider that a fail–this isn’t called Tree Wars. Just today I was commenting on how Overwatch map design is so well done, the roads and pathways are so clearly defined. However, in many other games of this genre that are coming out right now, even though they may be the most technically beautiful and highest fidelity game being developed, I can’t tell which hills I can crest or which meandering path will get me to my goal.
Now where this game really shines is the character design!
There are many MOBAs coming out in the next few months/years that are emulating this type of gameplay, and a big part of what compels me to play a game, is whether or not I feel cool! I have been watching all these other MOBAs coming out, and none of them have as much unique and inspired character design to their characters that Overwatch has going for it. Many have bland or typical types of characters that I’ve seen over and over, whereas Overwatch characters are unique, and tell a story just by looking at them. Blizzard really made an effort to expand their portrayal of female characters in this game, and they did an exemplary job. Zarya is easily the buffest chick ever to grace a pixel, and she looks dope as hell. Mei reminds me of and arctic Velma from Scooby Doo, which is so different from everything else I’ve seen lately. Even the male characters have a broad scope, from a gas mask wearing guy with a huge gut to an old man badass. Seriously, when have you actually played an ass kicking old man in a video game recently?
What they are doing wrong!
Box price plus MTs combined with their progression system.
Currently they are set with $40 for the basic game and $60 for the game with 5 exclusive skins for characters and other Blizzard game goodies.
Coming from a background in microtransactions and like a nerd raging about the cancellation of Firefly, I am very sensitive about this issue.
There is no way to make your character more powerful, everyone is always on the same playing field, PERFECT! So the only progression is with skins and there is an in game progression system to earn them. Players can unlock a skin by earning a Loot Box and Loot Boxes are earned after roughly 2 hours of gameplay.
The problem for me is 2 things. First, they are going to sell Loot Boxes. They haven’t said how much they will cost yet, but if I had to guess, it will probably be around $2.99-$4.99. I don’t have a problem with Loot Boxes, but they have microtransactions on top of a box price, which is pretty crappy. I can already hear people screaming, “But you don’t need to buy Loot Boxes!” Sure I don’t, however after playing with this system for months, it took me far too long to buy the epic skin for the character I play the most. I have skins for other characters, but I don’t play them, and there is nothing I can do with those unplayed skins, and it feels underwhelming to open a Loot Box only to get an epic skin for a character I don’t play. Sure, maybe I will down the road, but I still am not exciting about it now.
I like to compare it to how they priced Hearthstone, which is, in my opinion, really well priced.
Hearthstone is FTP, a card pack is $0.99 or 100 in-game gold, and you can only ever have 2 of the same card. If you happen to get a 3rd card it will automatically get turned into Dust, which you can then use to craft cards you are unable to obtain by purchasing card packs. Also, I get many cards for classes I don’t play, and am able to choose to destroy those cards by turning them into Dust so I can build whatever card I may happen to want.
When I compare this to Overwatch’s system, which is similar but different, here’s how it stacks up.
A Hearthstone player can choose to turn their junk (cards they don’t care about, but acquired from purchasing a card pack.) into things they will use. Overwatch players cannot turn their junk into anything, they are just stuck with a burning sadness, like a Spring Breaker who drank too many Fireballs and woke up pantsless.
Base Price: Hearthstone - Free vs Overwatch - $60
Microtransactions: Hearthstone Pack - $.99 vs Overwatch Box - $.??
In-game rewards: Hearthstone – Applicable toward something you want vs Overwatch – Just gonna sit there.
Ultimately, I would pay $10 for a skin I want, instead of grinding for months to get it. It doesn’t make me more powerful in game, it doesn’t change the game for anyone else. So why force me to grind?
They have things to acquire other than skins, like sprays (an image you can spray on a surface), emotes, victory poses, etc. All of them are pretty cool, but to follow the vein of feeling cool, getting 4 sprays for characters I don’t play, after playing for 2 hours, still feels pretty crappy.
Like a Marvel fanboy hearing about Deadpool being made, I am extremely excited for this game, and think they are handling everything very well, even with their grindy pricing scheme. They are focusing on fun, and making players feel cool. They are making a game that actually works across a broad spectrum of skillsets, and whether or not it’s actually balanced, it definitely feels like it.